Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Socialist Ipswich bans blogger from recording public meeting

Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqui Thompson being arrested for trying to film Carmarthenshire County council public meeting - soon local authorities will be forced by law to drop the Stasi-like tactics to keep decisions secret

Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqui Thompson being arrested for trying to film Carmarthenshire County council public meeting – soon local authorities will be forced by law to drop the Stasi-like tactics to keep decisions secret

Despite the Government of the day and the Labour Party in Westminster consistently telling local government to stop blocking bloggers and citizen journalists from reporting on public meetings, local councils are continuing to act like Soviets in the former USSR. And last night Ipswich Borough Council refused permission for local blogger Ipswich Spy to film the Executive Committee’s public meeting where the ruling Labour Party make key decisions affecting the town’s residents and businesses.

Ipswich now joins the ranks of councils in Carmarthenshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire in continuing to ignore the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, call for local authorities to allow the recording and reporting on all public meetings. 

The Conservative-led Government has had enough of councils acting like tinpot dictators when it comes to promoting transparent democracy and have decided to legislate to force local authorities like Ipswich Borough Council to open their public meetings to reporting by all electronic communication means: blogs, Twitter, sound recording and filming.

The Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which has now completed all its stages in the House of Commons and House of Lords, will include a law to enshrine a blogger’s – or any member of the public for that matter – right to tweet, sound record and film the proceedings in town halls in England. The Bill will receive Royal Assent early next year.

As Ipswich Spy pointed out in their post yesterday, the Executive Committee of Ipswich Borough Council is the power committee: all key decisions are made here. Please do not be fooled that the council meetings at the Town Hall have any real significance – they are mainly a show council meeting to go through the motions of democracy. The Labour leadership ensure anything of real importance, such as spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer money on a new ICT platform and council housing contracts, are taken at the Executive Committee within a secure office meeting room – as was the case last night.

Grafton House mandarins spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find a way to stop Ipswich Spy from filming key decision making at the Executive Committee. Soon they will have to grant permission swiftly.

Ipswich Spy contacted Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis MP to inform him of Ipswich Borough Council’s decision last night to refuse permission to film a public meeting. Mr Lewis responded by saying: “We finished the third reading of the new Bill today so it will soon be law. Councils should be encouraging openness. Good ones do.”


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New law could see councils forced to allow webcasting

Is the day which sets bloggers free to fully report on local councils coming to an end?

Is the day which sets bloggers free to fully report on local councils coming to an end? Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqui Thompson was arrested in February for filming her local council meeting

As regular readers will know I have been campaigning through my blog, along with Ben Redsell of the Ipswich Spy parishto persuade the Executive committee at Ipswich Borough Council to enhance democracy in local government and start webcasting their six-weekly meeting of all 48 councillors and key committees such as Planning and Overview & Scrutiny.

Cllr Martin Cook

Luddite or just anti-democracy? – Labour Councillor Martin Cook

In February this year, I took my campaign in person to the Town Hall and exercised my democratic right as a resident of Ipswich to ask a Council Question to the councillor responsible for IT, Cllr Martin Cook (and fellow employee of technology giant, BT). I asked Cllr Cook if the Borough Council would follow the lead of other English councils and start webcasting their public meetings. Unfortunately, and in a obscure roundabout way, Cllr Cook refused.

Despite the rebuttal I and fellow bloggers haven’t gone away. We are not campaigning to enhance our readership figures or ‘play with’ technologies.  We are campaigning for local government decisions to be made open and transparent to benefit the democratic process in this town. Up and down the land, including in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, bloggers have been refused permission even to tweet council meeting proceedings and at Carmarthenshire County Council when local blogger Jacqui Thompson tried to film a public council meeting, the Council called the police and had Mrs Thompson arrested. Anyone would think we were in East Germany or the People’s Republic of China based on the behaviour of local government officials.

But now local council mandarins are being brought to book. The Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, is bringing forward a law to enshrine a blogger’s – or any member of the public for that matter – right to tweet, record and report the proceedings in town halls in England. Unfortunately, the law will not have jurisdiction in the devolved assemblies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so our fellow blogger in Carmarthenshire may have to lobby her Welsh assembly politicians a bit more on this one.

The news laws will be part of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which is set to be debated by MPs in the House of Commons on Monday 28th October, having completed its Lords stages. You can follow it’s passage through parliament on the UK Parliament website.

It is not acceptable for councillors to close their doors on the people who have elected them and effectively take decisions on their behalf with no reporting by the media. Only last month at the Town Hall meeting of councillors in Ipswich, no one from the mainstream media turned up to the meeting. The only reporters were bloggers who are unpaid volunteers providing a free public service because of their commitment and passion for local democracy. During the meeting, three Conservative councillors walked out of the meeting in protest at how the ruling Labour administration were answering the public’s questions. This is a very serious matter – as it goes to the heart of how the democratic process is conducted in Suffolk’s county town –  but the local newspaper – the Ipswich Star – took almost a week to report this story. It was reported within minutes by the bloggers in attendance.

The introduction of webcasting would have ensured the decisions taken or public points swiped away by the ruling Executive were known to the taxpayers and electors of Ipswich in real-time. In Westminster we rightly have televised proceeding of all House of Commons debates and Committees (no one is asking for that in local government) but webcasting is a proven technology and relatively cheap to implement and will go a long way to closing the gap between voter and councillor in local government. Many decisions taken at Ipswich Borough Council actually have a greater impact on the day-to-day lives of Ipswich residents and businesses than those taken in Westminster, which may not have an effect on the town and in many cases have a very long lead time before implementation.

I would ask Ipswich Borough Council’s ruling Labour Party to look again at their decision to refuse webcasting of their Full Council meetings (in the first instance) before Parliament forces their analogue hand into our digital world.